Answered By: Kate Anderson, Business Librarian
Last Updated: Jun 22, 2018     Views: 45109

An executive summary is a concise version of a lengthier document, proposal, or multiple related reports. It is one of the first things (and sometimes the only thing) recipients of your document will read; therefore, it should be short and (often) persuasive. Executive summaries are commonly used in business plans, marketing plans, proposals, and other longer documents in order summarize and highlight main points. Remember that readers often do not have much time, so you have to capture their attention quickly, and convince them to keep reading. 

Read this overview to build your understanding of executive summaries.


Considerations Before Getting Started:

  • Though the executive summary is typically at the beginning of a document, many writers benefit from writing it last. This allows the writer to thoroughly develop all conclusions and arguments during other stages of the writing process, and simply focus on summarizing and persuading in the executive summary (rather than developing new arguments).
  • Assuming you are writing the executive summary last, do not add anything new to it; anything included in the executive summary should be in the larger document.
  • Be mindful of tone, and consider your readers when developing your executive summary. Are they experts on the topic, or generalists? If they are experts, you can likely use professional jargon, but if generalists, use terminology easily understood by all.
  • Executive summary lengths vary according to the length of the larger document, and are usually anywhere from 1-4 pages. As a rule of thumb, executive summaries are 10% of the entire document or less.

Writing the Executive Summary:

  • Place the executive summary on its own page(s).
  • The first paragraph should immediately capture the reader's attention, whether it's a story, surprising fact, or insightful quote.
  • Experts recommend using bullet-points (when possible) to present your ideas and keep it concise.
  • Align the order of your executive summary with the order of the main document.
  • Be confident. Believe in yourself and what you are presenting. If you do not write with confidence, your reader will sense this, and will follow suit.
  • Avoid cliches and claims you can't support with evidence.

An executive summary is not:

  • An abstract
  • An introduction
  • A conclusion
  • A simple copy & paste from various sections of the larger document. Information from the larger document should instead be synthesized and presented via (short) paraphrases.

Review the articles below for examples and more information about writing executive summaries:


Note: In regards to APA formatting, remember to use Times New Roman 12 point font, double spacing, one inch margins, etc. as required by APA formatting standards. There is no official APA format for executive summaries beyond that. Check with your instructor or review your assignment instructions if you have questions about page length or other expectations.

Lastly, checkout the Business Writing page of the School of Business Guide.

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